Protecting Riverbank Forests of Moldova
The Nistru (=Dniester) river, flowing towards the Black Sea in a long way of Moldavian-Ukrainian border, has always been a platform of human activity as settlements and battlefields during wars as indispensable economic relations to regional cooperation. It is the largest water supply in Moldova and important water supply in eastern Ukraine; it provides local people with various needs and goods, being at the same time a place for recreation. Its astonished landscapes are extremely attractive: slopes, canyon-shaped valleys, rocks, plateaus, gorges etc.
The tragic faith of these forests began many centuries ago, when huge trees, notably oaks, were selectively cut off for shipbuilding industry. Massive extraction of the wood, used for military operations during the Second World War, has dramatically reduced the forests. Extreme poverty afterwards, as a result of unsuitable property policy of the time, and terrible draughts of 50th had unmercifully altered the old-growth oak bank forests. Nowadays, irrational human intervention (cattle grazing, habitat alteration, unauthorised camping) and unsuitable land management (deforestation, sand and gravel extraction) still contribute to the general environment degradation in the area. However, several bank forest patches persisted, but their future is not stable and the unique biodiversity threatened. Unless urgent protective steps are taken, these habitats will be lost forever.
Biodiversity of Middle Nnstru River basin
Middle Nistru river basin is a home to numerous environments, true refugia for biodiversity. The greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum), eagle owl (Bubo bubo) and black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius), and insects as clouded apollo (Parnassius mnemosyne) or southern festoon (Zerynthia polyxena) are only some of the rare species which had been recorded in the area (Vasiliev, Andreev, 1998; Glăvan, Mantorov, 1999; Lozan, 1999; Glăvan et al., 2002).
Diversified biotope areas, from dry ledges and crest ravines to wet meadows and cliff forests on the river bank, are of great floristic importance, still preserving communities of such protected species as bird's nest orchid (Neottia nidus-avis), ferns (Gimnocarpium robertianum, Phyllitis scolopendrium Polypodium vulgare, Polystichum aculeatum), pasque flower (Pulsatila grandis), turk's cap lily (Lillium martagon) etc. (Ciaicovschi et Lozan, 1998; Shabanova, 1998).
„Stanca-Jeloboc“ conservation case study
There are areas requiring urgent conservation, as „Stanca-Jeloboc“ natural complex and its historical monuments are. It's a riverbank forest of used to famous „Soroca Codri“ hill forests, a ca 650 ha of what we call remaining of an old-growth oak forest type in north-eastern Moldova. Its historical-natural heritage transgressed with cultural activity over the millennia. The Monastery Cosauti (Soroca, Moldova) and the holy water spring, believed to have curative properties, are component part of the regional/religious life and true inspiration for people. The Palaeolithic setllement Cosauti takes us back to a 22,000 years of human culture in the area. Historical traces of Geto-Dacian tribes and the remains of a fortress (ground walls of 2-3 m in height) can be seen on the top of the „Stanca-Jeloboc“ forest cliff. All these, placed in the heart of an amazing landscape, have deeply affected minds and attitude of people towards the natural values.
The „Stanca-Jeloboc“ forest is a an example of how to start protecting small forest remnants from their fatal extinction. The idea to save forests by bestowing them of a legal conservational status was dimly felt for the last several decades. Only in the 90th, a microreserve concept policy of protecting small forest areas as a result of successful cooperation of scientists, NGO activists and local authorities, had won a national “protected landscape” conservation category for the 535 ha of forests of the Cosauti area, Soroca district. Nevertheless, the area is still conservation dependent.
Local people and their interests have also been taken into consideration. For, an ample informational campaign had been launched then to raise awareness and keep the public informed about the need to co-exist. Several expeditions had been organised in order to (1) reveal important species/habitat architecture and the main biodiversity issues affecting local areas, (2) cooperate with local authorities and people, and (3) plan future conservation strategy. Thus, preliminary lists of plants and animals of the area, including species in the national Red Book and of global interest (IUCN red list species), have been published. The real state of environment in the region, its attractiveness and uniqueness, opinion of scientists and local stakeholders, have repeatedly been embedded in several ecological movies and showing there is a challenge for urgent conservation.
Eventually it all worked out, so supported by the Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation, in July 2006 a meeting of Moldavian activists (Ministry of Environment of Moldova, local authorities, NGOs, scientists, local people) and Ukrainian counterparts (Administration of environment and natural resources of Vinnitza region, Jampol district authority, and environmentalists) took place in the heart of the very area. „Natural resources are of common interest and they should be protected jointly, by making a common cause with local people to stop the forests and its components from being destroyed, and we are now in the forest which could be the core of a future common, without borders, natural park“ – this was the outcome of the meeting.
Transboudary conservation and regional development
Nature does not recognise borders. Saving small patches of forests individually is the best solution for the moment, but it should not be the only one - preserving entire river bank ecosystem as a transboundary Natural Park is our future intention. A Moldavian-Ukrainian regional cooperation is needed in order to ensure a sustainable environment and non-fragmented habitats for biodiversity.
The richness of natural landscapes and complexity of historic-cultural resources (archaeological/paleonthological monuments, castles and monasteries, traditional craft manufacturing etc.) make areas along Nistru river very attractive for visitors. With the general trend of tourism growing, we see the environmental tourism activity be a solution for nature conservation and rational human intervention. This may also help local people get jobs and alleviate raising income in areas where nature is continually under high human pressure. The ecosystems are exposed to the risk of total disappearance, so by combining regional tourism with regional landscape protection we give a chance to larger uninterrupted conservation.
Keywords: Riverbank forests, Biodiversity, Transboundary Conservation, Moldova Republic
Dr. Aurel Lozan
Researcher, Department of Wetland Ecology and Conservation, Biological Centre